Mrs Womble Breaks a Record
The remarkable Mrs Womble takes issue with a publishing goliath.
Dear The Guinness Book of Records
Last year, for Christmas, I purchased for my nephew a copy of your publication, believing it to be the definitive record of the biggest, fastest, tallest, widest and greatest things in the world. My nephew, a young man of little imagination, was nevertheless impressed by its shiny cover, its colourful illustrations and some of the shorter words, more easily accessible to someone of his restricted intellect.
For many months he regaled us with fantastic facts and figures, whether we wanted to hear them or not, and although I confess that it became a little tiresome when I was constantly being told that Colin Beauchamp from Milwaukee has the world's tallest hat (sixteen feet, eleven inches) or that the Bolivian swamp frog can leap higher than the Guatemalan jumping snail (twenty-two feet), we nevertheless put up with the inconvenience for the sake of the boy's self-esteem.
All well and good, you might think. And indeed, on the strength of what I have just told you, your marketing division might well consider using my nephew as the poster boy for your next sales campaign. But not so fast there, Tonto.
Did you know that Theresa Mantell holds the record for eating more marshmallows inside a minute than anyone else in history? Yes? Well, that's what it says in your book, anyways. That's what my poor innocent fool of a nephew has been going around telling everyone, pleased as punch and bursting with juvenile pride.
Except, it's not true, is it? Not anymore. As that poor, trusting, pitiable chump was told in no uncertain terms when he stopped a stranger in the street to inform them of the fact. Oh, he was expecting the tirade of abuse, the wild, panicky stare, the desperate cries for assistance. But there was one thing that he was most definitely not expecting: to be corrected.
Imagine the dismay, horror and shock of that feeble-minded child as he ran into the toilets in the shopping centre, a place he finds safe and secure from harm, though heaven knows why considering the people who hang about in there. He has a fascination with hand driers that goes beyond the normal inquisitiveness of a curious young mind and skirts the borders of religious idolatry.
Anyhow, that's quite another matter and in time I'm sure it will become the subject of another letter. As soon as I found out what had happened I collected my nephew and we marched off to our local Waterstones to have it out with the manager, whom I held ultimately responsible for selling me this monstrous manuscript of fabricated facts. By now it was well after midnight and it seems the management believe that the lateness of the hour is a sufficient pretext to close their outlets, entirely insensible of the possibility that disgruntled customers may wish to pay a visit in order to shout at their staff.
No matter. I am made of sterner stuff and resolved to wait, oblivious to the biting cold, the howling wind and the pathetic whimpering of my nephew, who kept imploring me to let him go home. The happy result of a few hours of minor hardship was that I was on hand to make my feelings known to the staff as they arrived in the morning. One by one they hurried past me and disappeared into the shop, wherein I observed them milling about with mounting anxiety as they witnessed me yelling and hammering on the glass as opening time drew near.
Nine o'clock struck and barely had they unbolted the door when I burst in, strode up to the counter and demanded to see who was in charge. The young man unfortunate enough to be standing before me at least had the great good sense not to argue and immediately went to retrieve the manager, whom I understood had been cowering in the stock room.
"What do you call this?" I demanded as I slammed the book down and heard the unmistakable crack of bones in his left hand, which had been resting on the counter at the time. He whimpered slightly and bit his lip as he looked at me through watering eyes. "Did you know that Brian McCarthy of Donegal has the largest collection of dead slugs in the world?"
He looked puzzled and perplexed. "Is that a fact?" he asked uncertainly.
"No! No it isn't!" I cried. "A gentleman in Austria surpassed this record just two months ago. And yet, despite this fact being in all the newspapers and all over TV there's not a word of it in this book that I bought last Christmas."
"All the papers?" he asked, obviously struggling to get to grips with the import of the information I was trying to impart.
I leaned forward, pressing heavily on the disputed book and crunching the knuckles of the hand that still rested underneath. "You see that boy?" I said, gesturing over my shoulder. "It's a wonder he isn't scarred for life. The question is: what are you going to do about it?"
He winced as he tried to drag his hand free, but it was obvious that it wasn't going anywhere, so he quickly gave up. "Well," he began, "the new edition has just come out. I suppose - "
"At last!" I declared at this sudden breakthrough. "Finally, a half-decent stab at customer service." And so saying, I scooped up a fresh copy of the new edition and marched out of the shop, returning only to collect my nephew who was engrossed in colouring in a copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
You might wonder why, having apparently negotiated a satisfactory resolution, I am now writing to you, the publishers. Well, quite apart from the issue of compensation, which I am sure you will agree ought to be considerable in this case, I am seeking assurances that none of the information in your latest edition will become out of date. I am therefore urging you to order a ban on all record attempts for the foreseeable future, something which I am sure must be well within your power. Such an action would not only save my nephew from future embarrassment but is likely to safeguard the already quite severely damaged knuckles of the man in our local bookshop. I look forward to your snivelling reply.
Mrs Edna Womble